Those who know me know that I struggled with severe depression throughout 2019. I felt overwhelmed after three years of major life changes, was exhausted, and thought I was a failure. From the beginning of last year to the end, my emotions were running amuck. I would become sad and upset (taking it much too personally) when friends would rave about my photos, but then when it was time to hire a photographer, they went elsewhere. I would find myself unsettled looking at what my competitors were doing. I felt taken advantage of when I'd share photos from events and then see someone had taken one of them and sliced off my watermark (...so I insanely started adding more and more to my watermark to 'protect' the images). I cringed when a friend would drop me a note asking me to take a photo of their kids for them, or when friends would approach me for 'free' portrait sessions. I hated walking out of the house with my camera and I was no longer enjoying my photography 'work'. I am, by nature, a giver, and I wasn't in a giving mood.
Feelings of sadness, disappointment, frustration and anger are all real and can be very normal. They can also distract us from what we are called to do and can derail our mission. My emotions were in direct opposition to WHY I I loved photography and what I believed God had called me to do with this wonderful spiritual gift he has given me. My feelings were unhealthy. In hindsight, I now realize I was mad at the world. I was mad that my daughter moved away, that my dog died, that my 30-year career ended and that I had to work three jobs now to make a fraction of what I used to. I was mad because I never wanted to use my photography skills to make money, but now I had to. I was resentful. Something had to change. So, I just stopped.
In an effort to re-set my priorities and to remove the conflicting emotions that were spiraling in my mind, I started the new year by putting my photography business on hiatus. I wasn't really earning income from the photography anyway because I spent every dime upgrading equipment and buying props, so it didn't matter. I felt God was calling me to focus on something else, but didn't know what. The first quarter of 2020 was very challenging. I was sick for the first 3 months of the year (...the "flu" and "sinus infection" haha, right!), and struggled daily to overcome the depression monster that had taken up residence. I forced myself to go to a few school events, with camera in hand, to feel like I was doing something. Chaos ensued with some personal issues within my family that required considerable attention and focus. Then, everything stopped. Everything. Enter Covid-19.
I no longer had my usual three jobs to go to and instead spent many hours at home taking care of family members who were also struggling in one way or another, with problems far greater than my own. It is said that the best way to overcome feelings of despair and depression is to focus on others. This is not new information for me. It helped.
On the first warm spring day, I was ready to DO something. But I had nowhere to go and nothing to do, because we were all asked to #stayhome to #flattenthecurve. I couldn't volunteer for many of the things people were doing because I was still high-risk (auto-immune compromised). I talked about taking on another job, but held back for the same reason. During those chats, a good friend sent me a post she saw about a photographer in another state who was offering porch photo portrait sessions (in this case, the guy in Michigan was offering his service for $250, with part of the proceeds going to charity). She thought it was an idea I should pursue to add income while I was off work. I had no desire to try and 'sell' anything to anyone (for business or charity) let alone pick up my camera so I dismissed the idea. However, I DID have a desire to do something meaningful that might help others and that would might keep me out of the pit of depression.
A few days later, I decided to look into the article my friend shared and in researching, found that the "Front Porch project" was inspired by a Massachusetts photographer who wanted to bring her community together and boost their spirits, all while social distancing, and was spreading nationally. Photographers from all over the country were joining forces to capture this unique moment in our lives. I searched and couldn't find any local photographers who were doing this (yet), so I jumped in, and spontaneously created an 'event'. In compliance with the governor's #stayhomeohio orders and in following all safe social distancing protocols to help flatten the curve of Covid-19, the #frontporchprojectmedina was born.
Looking for joy for myself and wanting to spread joy to all of us who are struggling with isolation and a disconnect from our community, I decided to create an 'event' where I would travel the area one day to take some photos -- but only for those who accepted my invitation. My experience in driving bus routes for Medina City Schools came in extremely handy as I mapped out a timely route allowing me to capture 20 'stops' in a span of a few hours. The families I visited seemed excited to have something to do (...although after my 60 second stop, they probably wondered why they got worked up about just having their picture taken). My first stop was beyond unbelievable. My spirits began to spike. It was a good day!
Then, the sharing began. Requests started flooding in. My 'one day event' became a mission. My corporate management experience was definitely put to use as I had to manage hundreds of messages coming in from multiple sources in two facebook mailboxes, email and texts. I made a few mistakes along the way -- missing a stop or two, forgetting to send a confirmation ahead of time, and a few shots were not as great as I would have wanted. I have now winded down the project, with my last photo run.
Overall, every minute spent on this project has brought me joy -- and from the audience reaction online, it seems to have accomplished the goal of spreading joy and bringing community together in a way that we could not otherwise do. In just 2 weeks, the #frontporchprojectmedina photos have have been viewed over 15,000 times and more than 13,000 have had reactions (likes, loves, comments, etc).
Other Medina photographers launched similar campaigns. The media started covering the projects with news stories/articles. I met so many new friends ...spending less than 3 minutes standing on the curb in front of their house! Community was being restored and refreshed! I am forever grateful to the many families who joined with me to create 'joy'.
Social distancing continues.
Group gatherings are still restricted.
My school jobs are still on hold.
Project goals accomplished.
Now, it's time for pamarazzi to get back to work!
Having re-discovered the joy in what I love doing with my camera, shortly after launching #frontporchprojectmedina, I decided to throw myself back into my business. I decided I had to do things differently in order to avoid burnout. I realize I am not the only photographer in Medina (..there are actually over 80, and 2-3 more join the ranks every week to 'try a new career'). I realize I will have 'feelings' when a friend hires another photographer and I lose a job. But it will be ok. I will be ok. Like you all, I need to earn an income to support my family. Like you all, I need the support of my community. But, God is faithful. He has ALWAYS provided just the right amount of work and income to meet our needs. I realize that discretionary spending on things like photography are on hold in many households, where income is severely affected by shut-downs and where the future is insecure. So I may not get 'back to work' in my business for a while. But eventually, we'll get back to some form of normal. Until then, I'll keep pressing on. As I hope you will too.
10 Rounds, 200 Stops, Endless Joy!
The great thing about this project was that, in a time where everyone is a photographer and anyone can take pictures with their phones, there has been a revived interest in the importance of family portraits, planned and taken by an experienced professional photographer. I'm just one of MANY of those guys.
View the full gallery by searching #frontporchprojectmedina on facebook!